Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 1st December 2020.

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The First Minister:

First, I genuinely think that Jackie Baillie misunderstands the basis of the daily figures that we report on deaths. They include anybody who has a registered death and who tested positive within the previous 20 days, regardless of the setting in which they died, and the wider National Records of Scotland figures include cases of people who have died where the relationship to Covid is presumed, not confirmed through a test, so it is not true to say that care home deaths are not included in the daily figures.

Secondly, I have never said that we do not have a problem with care home deaths. What I have challenged—and I will demonstrate this—is that there is a particularly severe problem in Scotland relative to other parts of the United Kingdom. I have recognised and will recognise forever that we have had a problem with care home deaths, and I do not think that it is fair to suggest that I have said anything other than that.

The point that I have challenged is the point that Jackie Baillie has made, which is that, somehow, the level of care home deaths in Scotland from Covid is significantly higher than that in other parts of the United Kingdom, and England in particular. Members can see the reason why I challenge that. Let me say that the number is too high—I am not suggesting otherwise. However, the reason why I challenge that suggestion is that the figures, which are drawn from the NRS for Scotland and the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales, show that excess deaths in care homes in England have been higher than they have been in Scotland. In Scotland, a greater proportion of them have been attributed to Covid. It is for other people to say what the excess deaths in England that are not attributed to Covid have been caused by, but it strikes me that, perhaps, one of the reasons for the differential in figures is that we are attributing more of those deaths, perhaps accurately, to Covid.

On testing in care homes, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has set out the plans for that, and we will take them forward in a proper and considered way. It is because we are concerned about any potential for the number of deaths in care homes to start to rise again that we are being cautious about things such as visiting, which is difficult for families but is part of the important balance that we have to strike.